Day 3: Belleville, Ontario (88.77 miles, 254.86 total miles)
After a really nice evening with Holly and Nate and sleeping like a rock, I breakfasted and headed out. The weather was cool but not too chilly, though it was overcast and didn’t look like it would warm up any time soon.
Eventually, the sun broke through and it began to warm, though it was still cool with a breeze blowing in off the lake. The roads were nice and flat though there were a few unanticipated hills, but they were nothing like the inclines from the previous two days. It did get windy, but not unbearably so and the air had a refreshing sea-air quality to it.
Eventually, I came to Cape Vincent, 25 miles from Watertown. I took the opportunity to take a rest break and grab some snacks from the local general store. I sat out on a bench in front of the store right across from where the ferry departs. After resting up for a bit, I headed over to the ferry. There was no one in line and only an older gentleman standing on the pier. He was talking with some people in a boat. After a few minutes it became clear that they had fished something out of the river for him: a 12 foot 4 x 4 that had somehow gotten adrift. The man was concerned that a boat or jetskier might hit it and get damaged. The people in the boat had snared it and then sent it drifting over to the dock. The man saw me standing there with my bike waiting for the ferry so he waved me over and asked me to help him fish the 4×4 out of the water. I reached down to get it and it was really heavy. Eventually I got a portion of it onto the dock and then was able to use the dock as a fulcrum to pivot the beam around. By the time I was done I was panting.
The ferry eventually showed up and one car got off. There was still no one else waiting so I got on, paid my $2, and was the only passenger across into Canada. The St. Lawrence is about a mile across and the crossing was quick and easy. On the far side was the Canadian Customs station. I rolled off the ferry and headed up to the inspection station. Now, things have changed a lot since I was a kid and the process of crossing the border went something like this:
Official: Where are you going in Canada?
Official: How long will you be there?
Me: Just the afternoon.
Official: Alright. Have a good visit.
Now it was a little more complicated:
Official: Where are you from?
Me: Washington, D.C.
Official: Where are you going today?
Me: Uh, Belle–ville?
Official: Belleville. Okay. Do you have any weapons, explosives, knives, or other items on you?
Me: No, sir.
Official: How long will you be in Canada?
Me: Five days; I’m headed through Toronto and then Niagara Falls then back through New York.
Official: Is this your first time biking through Canada?
Me: Yes, sir.
Official: But have you been to Canada before?
Me: Yes, I have.
Official: Do you have your passport?
Me: Yes, sir. (Produces passport)
Official: Thank you, we’ll scan this and get it back to you. (A minute later) Here you go, sir. Enjoy your visit.
So, here’s the thing: it’s a lot more than it used to be but in the scheme of things, it’s nothing. Right now all around the world there are people who would love to be able to cross a border with so little difficulty, for reasons that are a great deal more serious than a bike ride. Freedom of movement is taken for granted and the special relationship we have with Canada that facilitates this movement is definitely the exception not the rule, even if they do want a passport these days.
Once I had crossed onto the Frontenac Islands, the road was easy and pleasant.
It was windy but not too bad and for a large portion of the ride across the island, the wind was coming from the side. It was actually kind of fun to ride across the island through fields and fields of windmills turning slowly. It was at this point that my bike began making a clunking noise every so often. It would the remainder of the day and it was driving me nuts. Sounds like this on a bike are really hard for me to figure out where they’re coming from. And just when I thought I’d found the source of the knocking and solved it, I’d hear it again. In any event, I was making really good time across the island and couldn’t believe how fast the 11 miles from ferry to ferry went. That’s when I realized that I had only gone 7 miles—the signs are all in kilometers. Duh.
I made it to the site of the ferry to Kingston and got in line behind the cars to board. The driver of the car in front of me opened his door and got out to tell me that bikes don’t have to wait in this line and I could just ride down and get on. “Don’t want you to miss the ferry!” he said. Proof even more than the bilingual signs and measurements in kilometers that I was in Canada. It was very nice.
So, I boarded the ferry and we made our way across the three mile expanse of river toward Kingston. This was a much busier ferry than the one to Cape Vincent and was full of cars and pedestrians. From the water, Kingston looked like a really interesting city with an old fortress on the shore and Holly had said it was a great place to visit. I considered stopping to get lunch there but for two things: (1) I had had my snack break not long before, and (2) I checked the distance to Belleville and it was still 50 miles away (80 kilometers). It was 1:45 pm and I had to get going. Kingston will have to wait for another trip.
So I got back on the road and biked through the city. Kingston has a number of bike lanes, which was nice. But the weather started to turn. It was still breezy but began to get hot. Now, I’ve biked a lot in hot weather, so this wasn’t a problem, but having already biked nearly 40 miles, mid-day heat was starting to sap my strength. The route eventually put me on Princess Street and I immediately thought that Sarah Omar would love to live on this street, despite any obvious linkages to Disney™.
Speaking of names, I went through townships named “Kingston” and “Loyalist” (the i was dotted with a maple leaf) and it was clear what side these folks were on during the Revolutionary War. Now, Canada is an interesting place to visit as an American. It’s almost like America from a parallel dimension where everything is the same but different in the details. Everything looks similar except the names of the stores and the shape of the signs. There is a fascinating blend of similarity and difference in Canada that doesn’t really exist in any other country. Sure, they speak English in the UK and Australia, but markedly different varieties. The differences between Canadian and American varieties of English are nice metaphors for the differences between the two countries. And the two countries share a love of their own flags. I will confess, even though I’ve been to Canada before, biking through residential and rural areas has allowed me to see just how ubiquitous the Canadian flag is. The Canadians, it seems, are just as fond of the maple leaf as Americans are of the stars and stripes.
As I was traveling along, suddenly there was an enormous cloud that rolled in and ended the hot sunny day. The sun would return from time to time, but what also returned were strong headwinds. I knew there would be headwinds on this trip and especially the first several days when my progress was more westerly. But these were just plain demoralizing. Having to pedal downhill and downshift to bike on flat terrain was really unpleasant and it wasn’t just my legs that began to hurt; every muscle in my body was aching.
In addition, the roads were not always easy going. Most of the roads I was traveling on did not have a hard shoulder. There was a wide shoulder, but it was unpaved and just loose gravel and there was often a rough edge to the pavement. This meant having to bike more in the lane itself, which is not fun on heavily traveled roads. It made the going even more difficult given that both the conditions and the surface were not helpful.
I arrived in Napanee, which was halfway between Kingston and Belleville and the perfect place to take a lunch break. I stopped at a place called “The Loaf and Ale” that had an outdoor seating area where I could sit and keep an eye on my bike. I went inside and asked the woman behind the bar if I could eat on the patio, and she said, “Yes, of course. Have a seat and I’ll be right oot.” Okay, I know they’re not really saying “oot,” but boy if it doesn’t sound that way. But it made me smile because it was so authentically Canadian. And I will say, the burger that I had there was one of the best burgers I have had anywhere.
After taking about an hour to rest up there, I got back on the road. It was just as windy and the cumulative effect of biking into all these headwinds was starting to wear on me. The last 25 miles were really difficult and even though the terrain was flat, it was difficult to get moving quickly because of the winds. Still, the countryside was pleasant and I biked past a lot of homes. (In addition to all the Canadian flags in the front yard, there are a lot of hockey goals in the driveways.)
Finally, I got to Belleville in the early evening. After passing by a “Hoser Carwash” I turned onto the street where the Holiday Inn Express was located. I was looking forward to staying at this hotel because I know that they tend to have hot tubs in their pool area and some rooms have whirlpools and I really could use a soak for my aching muscles. But they had no rooms available (“We’re sold oot tonight,” the woman at the desk said) so I got a room at the Canada’s Best Value Inn next door. I was craving hot water to soak in after 88 miles of aching muscles, but in the end, it’s the bed that I need the most.